By; MOHAMMED KAWU, Bauchi
More than 116 million children are to be immunize this week in 13 countries across West and Central Africa in the bid to tackle the last remaining stronghold of polio on the continent under the treatment of more than 190 000 polio vaccination.
The coordinated vaccination campaign, according to a statement by UNICEF, is one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa.
The statement signed by UNICEF Chief of Communication Doune Porter gave 13 countries of the vaccination campaigns as Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Chad.
Others are Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Porter said that the children in these countries will be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent.
It recalled that in August 2016, four children were paralysed by the disease in security-compromised areas in Borno state, north-eastern Nigeria, widely considered to be the only place on the continent where the virus maintains its grip.
“Twenty years ago, Nelson Mandela launched the pan-African ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’ campaign,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease”.
The statement commended the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, that the disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir.
Dr. Moeti cautioned, however, that progress was fragile, given the epidemic-prone nature of the virus, confined to a comparatively small region of the continent, with experts warning that the virus could easily spread to under-protected areas of neighbouring countries.
“That is why regional public health ministers from five Lake Chad Basin countries – Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – declared the outbreak a regional public health emergency and have committed to multiple synchronized immunization campaigns”.
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms Marie-Pierre Poirier, stated that with the strong commitment of Africa’s leaders, there was confidence that this last remaining polio reservoir could be wiped out.
“Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable – but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal”.
Statement added that to stop the potentially dangerous spread of the disease as soon as possible, volunteers will deliver bivalent oral polio vaccine (BOPV) to every house across all cities, towns and villages of the 13 countries.
According to it, the army of volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycle, in often stifling humidity and temperatures in excess of 40°C to enable the campaigns succeed.